A) British way of life. The British character. Leisure activities.
There are various stereotypes of different ways of life of the British people. Upper class people are believed to cook French food for an evening meal which they call dinner or supper and with which they drink wine. They watch tennis and rugby; they read The Times or The Daily Telegraph; they name their sons Piers or Edward, and their daughters Rebecca or Sophie; they listen to classical music; and they buy stocks and shares. Working class people microwave ready-made supermarket meals for an evening meal which they call tea, and they drink tea with it; they watch snooker and football; they read The Sun or The Daily Mirror, they name their sons Darren or Paul, and their daughters Ashley or Lizzie; they listen to pop music; and they buy lottery tickets. These stereotypes are humorous and only half true. But there are some definite features of life which are quite serious.
Almost every nation has a reputation of some kind. The French are supposed to be amorous; the Germans dull, formal, efficient; the Americans boastful, energetic, gregarious and vulgar. The British have been known as superior, snobbish, aloof, hypocritical and unsociable. Though these characteristics have been noted by people from all over the world, the traditional opinion about British was based on the habits of those Britons, who could afford to travel: diplomats, merchants and those who were taught by public school their “stiff-upper-lip” philosophy. But the stereotype of the reserved Englishman is in many ways out of date.
An unusual geographical position of the country has produced a certain insular spirit among its inhabitants who tend, a little more than other people, to regard their own community as the centre of the world. The British look on foreigners in general with a slight contempt and think that nothing is as well done elsewhere as in their own country. That is why they are considered not a very hospitable nation.
Like any other nation or society; the British like to create an agreeable picture of themselves. They think that their important national values are tolerance, decency, moderation and consensus. The British pride themselves on fair play and a genius for compromise. As seen by outsiders, qualities of the typical British also include reserve and modesty, politeness and helpfulness and a gift for understatement.
But there is one quality of the British national character which remains indisputable. The British people are known to be profoundly conservative. They always prefer their glorious past with its reassurance to the uncertainty of the future. Their conservatism on a national scale may be illustrated by reference to the public attitude to the monarchy, an institution which is held in affection and reverence by nearly all British people, to the old traditions and ceremonies which are so carefully cherished.
The British are community-mindedpeople. They have had a long tradition of democracy, not so much in the sense of creating formal institutions, but in the active sense of popular cooperation to uphold the will of the people. The British willingly participate in public affairs. There are plenty of charities officially registered with the government, and lots of voluntary organisations, including sports clubs, trade-unions, rambling clubs, protest groups and societies.
British people distrust generalizations. The British emphasise individuality because they hate the idea of appearing the same. Every regiment in the army, every school or university, many municipal corporations, clubs and other institutions tend to have their own uniform, traditions or their signs identifying them and making them different from others. The English seem to like defining themselves as members of small groups which they have, as individuals, helped to create. They tolerate eccentrics, difficult people and nonconformists in social behavior.
Privacy is important for them as well. “The Englishman’s home is his castle” is the saying known all over the world. The British people more strongly than other nations are attached to their country and to their homes. For them there is no place like home, there they feel most comfortable and their privacy is guaranteed. Everyone in Britain dreams of living in a detached house with a beautiful garden and smooth lawn in front of it. A fire-place is a traditional symbol of warmth. Nowadays, those who cannot afford “real fire” can buy an imitation of open fire with plastic coal. A detached house is not only a status symbol for Englishman. Together with a garden and a lawn it separates the owners from the world and ensures their privacy.
Britain is supposed to be the land of law andorder. The British deeply respect law, both written and unwritten, and strictly obey it. They never violate traffic order or game rules; they play fair and prefer to turn any conflict into a compromise. Cleanliness and orderliness are regarded to be next to godliness, so everything is orderly with them: streets and houses, lawns and flower-beds, gardens and parks. Drinks are carefully measured, seats are carefully assigned, closing and opening hours are vigorously observed. Queuing is noticed to be the national passion. Jumping the queue is very rare.
Many British people are guided by Victorianvalues and make them the principle of their life. Victorian values teach to work hard, to improve yourself, to live within your income, to give a hand to your neighbour, to respect yourself, to be self-reliant, to be a good member of your community, to take it as duty to help others voluntarily when you get greater prosperity and to have tremendous pride in your country.
The best known and universally marked quality of British people, especially English, is reserve. They are trained from an early age to judge and assess social responses. They do not talk very much to strangers, do not show their emotions openly. But foreigners also confess that English reserve is not unpleasant. And when you get to know the English better they will turn out to be very companionable, friendly and warm-hearted people.
Closely related to British reserve is British modesty. English people hate boastfulness and grand statements. “If you are a world tennis champion, say “Yes, I don’t play too badly”. An Englishman will say: “I have a little house in the country”, when he invites you to stay with him you will discover that the little house is a place with three hundred bedrooms.
The British people are great lovers of gardens, dogs, cats and horses. Animals are not only loved but protected by law. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was established in 1824, more than half a century before its national counterpart for the prevention of cruelty to children (1884). Nowhere in the world are cats and dogs so deeply cared for as in Britain. There are special dogs’ cemeteries and monuments in the country and a “Birds’ Hospital” in Cornwell.
One of the most striking aspects of the British national character is the love of the countryside. The British view life in the city as an “unnatural” economic necessity. Many people, whether they live in suburban house or in a flat in a high-rise block, would say their dream home was a country cottage with roses growing over the door. English people have many times been described as a nation of flower-growers. Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the country. Many social activities are connected with gardening. There are flower-shows and vegetable-shows, with prizes for the best exhibits. Gardening clubs and evening classes in this subject attract a large number of enthusiasts. They are sometimes described as a nation of amateurs because they don’t take professional commitment seriously enough. “Do-it-Yourself” has become another popular hobby in Britain. Books and magazines are published giving step-by-step instructions and there are also shops, which cater for the requirements of the amateur craftsmen.
Though Britain does not often produce world-famous sportsmen the British people are sport-lovers and taught the rest of the world organised games. Golf was first played in Scotland in the 15th century, cricket was first played in England in the 16th century. Team sports such as football, rugby and hockey were first played in British public schools. The rules for all these games were also written in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. Besides these popular national games there are sports “essentially dear to the English nature... to the gentleman class”: fox-hunting, rowing and horse racing. But they have remained primarily upper-class pastime. Most British people go in for cheaper sports for pleasure and to keep themselves fit. The British are great lovers of competitive sports. From his earliest youth a Briton plays games; and when he is neither playing nor watching games he likes to talk about them, At a football match the quiet, reserved British shout and yell as much as any nation. Regretfully British football supporters have a reputation for violence.
The British are a gambling nation. There are thousands of betting shops in Britain. The most popular forms of betting, apart from horse-racing, are bingo and football pools. Hundreds of cinemas are now used as bingo halls, and it is estimated that more than 6 million people, mainly women, play bingo fairly regularly — though the stakes are very small.
The British people are the world’s greatest tea drinkers. They drink a quarter of all the tea grown in the world each year. Tea is the national beverage. Many British people drink tea at least 8 times a day.
One of the points, which is difficult for foreigners to understand, is the English sense of humour. This is perhaps the most fundamental trait the British have in common. They are known for self-deprecating irony and a distinctive sense of the absurdity of life. It is an ironic sense of humour which lends itself to self-caricature. Yorkshire folk, for instance, have been described by a distinguished Yorkshireman as being like the Scots but without their generosity (the Scots are reputed as the stingiest people on Earth).
British people are polite in public much more than any other nation. Most British people expect the person in front of them to hold the door open for them. They think you are rude if you do not do this. It is considered polite to give up one’s seat to a woman who is standing, carry things for her and so on. British people do not readily ask each other to do anything, they prefer to wait for a service to be offered before asking for it. If they do ask, then they say something like “I don’t really like asking you, but...”. British people are friendly and warm-hearted, they talk quietly and are never too talkative because they respect silence. They don’t want to impose on other people. They try to avoid making confidences, particularly about other people. Though gossip exists there, as everywhere, yet it is less common and more serious.
But some people doubt whether there is anything that can be called a British national character as the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish have retained their separate identities despite English domination.